Kenya: Finlays claims group action by tea workers over injuries should not be permitted, ahead of judge decision
"Kenyan tea pickers bid to sue Finlays in Scotland", 22 December 2021
A judge is deciding whether more than 700 people from Kenya should be allowed to sue a tea company for damages in Scotland's supreme civil court.
Most of the claimants are former tea pickers who say they were injured while working for James Finlay (Kenya) Ltd...
Finlays says the action does not meet the requirements of Scotland's rules on group litigation proceedings.
These are known as class actions in other jurisdictions.
It is also arguing that any claims should be dealt with by the courts in Kenya, not Scotland's Court of Session...
At a preliminary hearing at the Court of Session, the judge Lord Weir was asked to grant an order for the group action to proceed.
Andrew Smith QC said the pickers claim they were routinely asked to work up to 12 hours a day without a break, for six days a week, earning in 2017 an average monthly wage of £100.
He said they carried baskets on their backs and had to harvest a minimum of 30kg (4st 10lb) of tea to be paid anything at all.
Mr Smith said James Finlay (Kenya) Ltd had a turnover of £52m last year and he described the working conditions as a "recipe for disaster."
He told the judge: "If these practises were adopted in Scotland, it's likely they would be closed down pretty much instantaneously by health and safety."
Representing the company, lawyer John Thomson said: "There is mention of the claimants being fearful of being pressurised or intimated by the defenders (Finlays) at a local level.
"As matters presently stand, only 28 of the claimants are still employed by the defenders. If the claimants have any such fears, these are unfounded."
Mr Thomson said the company has existed in one form or another since 1750 and has been involved in Kenya for a "substantial part" of that time.
He added: "Any suggestion that they would exert pressure or intimidate individuals is an anathema to them."
Mr Thomson said lawyers acting for the Kenyans had failed to establish that the 700 cases involve similar or related issues.
Finlays say the group action should not be allowed to go ahead.
Lord Weir said he hoped to issue his decision at the end of January.
Ronald Onyango, a Kenyan-born British lawyer, told the BBC the number of people involved in the case could rise to 1,500 if it is allowed to proceed...
Patrick McGuire from Scottish law firm Thompsons Solicitors has applied to represent the tea pickers in the Court of Session and says they are seeking financial redress and medical rehabilitation.
Finlays is already facing a legal action involving seven Kenyan tea pickers in another Scottish court.
It has defended its record on health and safety and says it makes a major contribution to the economy of the Kericho region in Kenya, where it has 10,300 hectares (25,500 acres) of tea fields and employs more than 7,000 people.